Publisher: Electronic Arts Developer: Maxis UK Price:£35.99
SimCity is something of a disaster, even for reasons other than the most heavily documented flaws with the troublesome launch. Putting aside the initial fiasco, and even allowing for the always-online functionality that restricts player enjoyment, the actual game itself has fundamental flaws. It’s a shame, as there are also a decent handful of elements that are implemented very strongly
The heart of the problem is that the game's developer, Maxis, had initially attempted to provide something that seems reasonably noble. It took the core of what made previous SimCity games so successful – giving players the ability to construct a city of their own design – but added an incentive to work with other players to collaboratively build as great an environment for simulated people to live and work in as they can. You can see the thought process that decides this is an excellent and necessary step forward; this new game has turned what was previously a largely solitary affair into something that hooks into the modern, connected society we all now inhabit.
It’s just a shame that the game doesn’t really offer any explanation why working with another person is more fun than working alone. Indeed, in many ways the choices that have been built in are actively detrimental to player enjoyment.
The heart of the problem is that cities are very restricted in size. Instead of building one huge metropolis, players control up to 16 smaller cities on one large map, with all the cities able to share resources and even become specialised – an industrial city, a gambling paradise, a tourist trap, etc.
This is an interesting idea but nowhere in the game is it explained why splitting things up is better than cramming everything into one city, and any attempt to do so soon has you hitting the limits of your forced small patch of land. Of course, the point is that the experience is tailored towards multiplayer, but then pushing jobs to other people means that you technically just aren’t doing as much so the fun is even further reduced. With few obvious incentives for this passing on of duties, it feels like restriction for restrictions sake rather than a fun new game element.
There is of course the real life social aspect of building multiple cities with multiple people, coordinating your efforts to achieve a glorious single goal, and we can see this being rewarding. But, there's something less inherently entertaining about collaborating with up to sixteen people to ensure sewerage and electricity needs are met. Certainly it's a far cry from the group satisfaction of, say, taking on a tough instance in World of Warcraft. What's more, surely the whole point of being a virtual God-like City planner is that you can avoid the planning meetings and negotiations that would go along with building the real thing.
Where the problems really start compounding is that because of this multi-player-centric design it's impossible to save the game. So, for instance, you can't deploy a natural disaster or alien invasion just for the fun of it then revert back to a save game, instead you'll have to actually build your city back up again. We can see some people enjoying that ride but we're fairly sure most users would rather they had the option to simply revert back if they, for instance, suddenly realise that recovering from that Godzilla attack is going to take far longer than expected.
All of which is a shame because there are absolutely parts of SimCity that are worthwhile and work excellently...